In general, opportunities to conduct research in China’s top universities are very good, especially at the top research-intensive universities. This is because government funding has been abundant and investment in the higher education system has been strong and sustained. China’s universities are growing in reputation, prestige and excellence.
China now files more patents than any country in the world and its publication rate in top international journals has improved significantly and steadily.
Another big plus is the quality of Chinese students. They receive a good grounding in basics from their primary and secondary schooling. There is a high value on education. They are hard-working, industrious, serious and focused on their education. They work well in teams and are dedicated and willing to put in the effort required to succeed.
Chinese faculty colleagues are friendly, helpful and supportive. You will also benefit from very helpful staff both in school administration and the university International Office. Almost every Project 211 university has both a significant number of foreign staff plus Chinese academics, an increasing number of whom have studied overseas. Accordingly, one gains the benefits of working in a diverse ‘international’ community as well as a Chinese one. The blend is very exciting and stimulating.
Ideally, you should find a Chinese colleague who can help you publish in both Chinese and English journals and thus expand the impact and reach of your research. You will also find that the outside world is generally very interested in Chinese developments. Thus, international journals will be receptive to research findings from the most populous country and second-biggest economy in the world. In many respects, too, China is confronting challenges today that will be faced by all countries in the future (e.g. ageing population, pollution, rising middle class, infrastructure). This provides a wonderful canvas on which to plan and draw your research findings as you paint a vibrant research career.
Chinese universities are relatively new and thus facilities, including research labs, library, computing and classrooms tend to be state of the art. An exception is the older buildings, but these are quickly being demolished and replaced on most campuses by new infrastructure.
Funding for research
The total expenditure on research in china and development (R&D) has increased by 23% a year on average over the past decade. Funding for research is also largely provided by both national and provincial government, though there is also some encouragement (but not as much pressure compared to the West) to attract competitive funding.
At the same time, there is worldwide interest in Chinese developments and China is still a developing country. Consequently, international bodies such as the Asia Development Bank and UN groups are very interested in developments there and research funding is available for worthy projects. Because China attracts much of the world’s direct foreign investment and with the increasing presence of major companies there from all over the world, the opportunity for industry grants and funding is also strong.
You can apply for university grants since universities normally receive money from the central government to distribute as they see fit. Competition for these is tough since there is a lot of staff, but a supportive dean should help you, and you should be able to get at least one. The amount of money normally ranges between 20,000 to a maximum of 50,000RMB.
As a foreigner, you can apply for funds through the provincial government, and be a PI on these awards if such a provision exists. Again, the funds are normally given on an annual basis of 30,000RMB per year total, with normally a maximum of a 4-year tenure. It is worth noting that foreign nationals are not eligible to apply for funding from the central government under the scheme known as CSC (Chinese Scholarship Council). These are the most prestigious awards, but they cannot be obtained by non-Chinese nationals, irrespective of your academic rank.
Chinese industry is also spending significant dollars in research and development and this is a possible source of funding for academics.
Finally, there is also ample opportunity to earn research dollars acting as a consultant to either industry or state-owned enterprises.
Conference funding is generally ample for travel overseas. Chinese airports and the transportation system is generally excellent and it is easy to get into, out of and around China.
If you are fortunate to be working in a university in a major city such as Shanghai or Beijing you will find that many of the conferences come to you. There are also important international groups holding their meetings in Beijing and so access to key people from all over the world is easier when you have the opportunity of becoming part of that network.
For those engaged in the sciences, health and technology fields, research opportunities abound. There is still much work to be done and the government has committed substantial resources to research in its leading universities. Being relatively new and well-funded, these research-intensive universities have the latest labs and other infrastructure. There is also no shortage of very talented, hardworking, keen and dedicated Chinese students to serve as a research, lab and other assistants.
China is also an excellent environment in which to engage in research related to computing, computer games, e-commerce, computer chips, nanotechnology, robotics, aerospace, computer engineering, software development and related fields. With over a billion mobile phones and almost 500 million people connected to the internet, China is well poised to become the world leader in many of these areas and research opportunities are many and varied.
Arts, Social Sciences, Law, Design and related disciplines
Generally, the research funding picture for all disciplines is positive, especially in the research-intensive universities. The quality of the libraries and general availability of leading electronic databases and other resources are very good.
For those doing field research, the general availability of people to talk to and survey is probably more open than it has ever been, though obviously the language barrier with so many dialects spoken and for a non-Chinese speaker, is a major obstacle. Also, there is greater government censorship and monitoring leading to more restricted access to data and information than one would find in the far more open Western political environments.
For those in the Arts, the Chinese have a long cultural tradition in the arts that will be of great interest. In addition, you will find intense interest from the Chinese themselves. For example, English language production of Shakespeare performed by English actors will attract large crowds, even though many in the audience must rely upon slide screens on the sides of the stage that display the dialogue in Mandarin. In the fine arts, fashion and design, too, China is developing rapidly and there is an outstanding opportunity to bring together East and West and create something new and exciting.
In areas like law, the greater internationalization of and participation by China in a global economy means that Chinese laws, regulations and other materials are today more often readily available in English. In addition, with China’s rise economically, there is a growing number of commercial databases that provide up-to-date, reasonably high-quality information and data on Chinese developments. All this makes doing comparative work and analysis of Chinese developments much easier than in the past.
In addition to building your network within China, China provides an excellent base from which to engage the rest of the world. If you are located in a major city such as Beijing or China you will have international meetings and conferences and their attendant networks readily available to you.
You may also be interested in our ebooks:
How To Pursue An Academic Career In China: Part One
How To Pursue An Academic Career In China: Part Two